Earth, Air, Fire and Water … The humanist side of politics see them as spiritual elements that need to be respected even when being put to use … The corporate side of politics see them as an opportunity to capitalise upon for personal enrichment … and there is the left – right divide.
But mother nature is a strange beast, caring little for the creatures that shelter from or make use of her bounty … whether they use it judicially or waste it profusely, she is what is described as an immovable force, neither sympathetic to cruelty nor appreciative of kindness … she just is. And it goes to measure that they who will waste her resources to fulfil their own greed and treasure house is benefited as much by the same chance of luck and fortune as those who hold her gifts dear to their heart.
There is, however, a price to pay for the wanton destruction of a natural resource … Humanity, being the most guilty of this crime, has learned from so many social collapses and natural disasters that the limits of endurance of a natural system of supply can only be pushed to a certain limit before it hurts … and hurts sorely. Humanity has learned, but alas, not applied that lesson … Humanity esteems that wisdom, praises it, builds idols to it … but does not emulate it … and can there be anything more pathetic than a subordinate giving false flattery to an overseer in the hope for material reward?
Earth, Air, Fire and Water … these were the elements that those Germanic pioneers used as the axiom for their lives out here in the South Australian hinterland, and we can use their trials and tribulations as metaphorical example of that ideological divide … The basic truths that they brought from their homelands in the valleys and on the river banks of the Silesian and Pomeranian soils when they migrated with entire villages to a new land, a new horizon that would allow them the freedoms to pursue their own unique life-style and culture. There was no other truth to their lives and those basic truths were shared with and abided next to their deep Godly faith … it was life and death to them.
Their Earth was the dry, shallow Mallee soils, or the more fertile hills and shallow valleys of the Barossa Ranges … Their Air was the winds that tore through their hard-won crops and orchards … Fire was ever their watch-word that could in a moment wipe out their entire dreams and Water was such a thirst that it went either to drought or to flood .. It was these elements that they held in deep but reverent superstition, where many festivals celebrating a good harvest or lamenting hard times was a hang-over from their pagan past and revered and feared with equal passion.
But there was a contrast in ideology at work in that new colony between the objectives of the colonial administrators and the pioneer settlers. Part of a new philosophy of capitalist exploitation. The one more keen to profit from their speculation at the expense of the land (Earth) with the official doctrine of “trees don’t pay taxes”, the burning of cut-wood for energy and charcoal fuel (Air), the smelting of ores and powering of steam engines (Fire) and the last (Water), such a valuable commodity that could be measured in a price per gallon, held and levied as a commodity.
Who would win this tug-of-war between the basic necessities of life and the profit of corporations? … Of course, it was never in question … They who command the power of regulation and jurisdiction make the laws and enforce them. But the laws they made took little account of those four vital elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water that the farmers staked their survival upon and so the taxes, the interest rates and the harsh conditions of both the leases of land and the environment took their toll … So the pioneers sweated their too small parcels of land, broke their families hearts, condemned to frightful birthing moments and illness and disease, and broke their own backs in doing so and after several generations were scattered to the farther reaches of the new colonies and their leaseholds sold and resold to neighbours to increase their own acreage and the chance of financial survival in an unforgiving environment, till the pioneers finally got the hang of the soils, the knowledge of the weather patterns and the chances of fire and made a go of their estates, only to be once again reviled for their “German-ness” in the time of the Great War.
All those place-names, those familiarities that gave their new locations a feeling of “home” … hamlets and streams, the hills and forests, the valleys and the tracks … names rolled off in a German tongue now culled from the maps by a ludicrously named ”Department of Nomenclature” … to victimise those hardy farmers and tradespeople who in reality had little intention of revolution as they came to the colony to escape those same warring empires … and even had less hope of achieving any uprising even had they the inclination … But still they were held in suspicion, partly because of their close-held cultural beliefs and their singular Lutheranism … one of the very reasons they fled their homeland … and so they stood next in line to the Indigenous peoples to witness their identities erased with the stroke of a clerk’s pen and substituted for a ruling nation’s whim, a mere idiosyncrasy.
But those hardy peasants, stubbornly steeled in their beliefs by centuries of certainty, rose above mere bureaucracy, their offspring gaining more and more credibility in agricultural pursuits .. orchards, cropping, animal husbandry and wine-making until they were the major force in the adjacent valleys and flats … Their family names now a marque of distinction in the art of vigneron and fine produce. No more rejected for their origins, where once the names of “Those who Served” on local plinth and stone memorial boasted a majority of Anglo-Celtic surnames. By the time of the second world war, these Germanic families heralded the majority of servicemen and women.
Now the object of those who considered themselves “born to rule” was how to bring this rising demographic “into the tent” … into the arms of a conservative colonial ruling class, when in truth those very same “lesser aristocrats” of a lower status than those they emulated in snobbery, if not in capacity, would rather see these “foreigners” remain in a servile state and managed like their own country-folk, destroyed of their culture and native inclinations by the brutality of the British industrial revolution … robbed of their heritage by a rapacious middle-class … so they sought out those members of the community most aligned with their own ambitions … most agreeable to their own “consciousness of kind” … those later arrivals who were able to ride in on the coat-tails of their hard-working country people … ”the Men who come behind”, as Henry Lawson wrote:
“There’s a class of men (and women) who are always on their guard —
Cunning, treacherous, suspicious — feeling softly — grasping hard —
Brainy, yet without the courage to forsake the beaten track —
Cautiously they feel their way behind a bolder spirit’s back …”
Better educated, more financially secure, more than willing to bend their culture and will to a ruling class appreciative of a “doffed cap and the tugged forelock “ … they are easy to find, easier to corrupt and cheaper to reward … divide and rule, a tactic as old as empires and as certain of as time itself.
Those suitable applicants were initiated into the rituals of governance .. the conditions of rule, the bias of social superiority that would lead to the possibilities of wealth and glittering prizes. Some of these old family names were altered, letters and umlauts dropped that showed their origins as too vulgar … too close to the Earth … too close to a past of struggle and woe … These new inductees needed to be “blooded” in class warfare, with a knowledge of which side must always “win” … So from the end of that second war, we see many names that once graced the lists of “desperate needs dole”, now, in this new century, carved in the foundation stones of civic buildings and raised in toast at dinners of the Chambers of Commerce in the capital city, while their “lesser” cousins marvelled the crowds at local and national sport grounds with their dexterity with ball, bat and other skilled sports.
But their parents and their grandparents and forebears right back to the first years of the colony have their names carved into a different, more humble marble and stone … Courageous testaments cut in lonely, abandoned church-yard cemeteries … many with their still-born or short-lived children buried next to them, to keep them company into eternity and perhaps the only recognition being a short note in the obituaries of another’s old diary or the fading memory of a aged descendant, themselves still keen to test the four elements that continuously challenge those with close and honest affinity to the eternity of the land:
Earth, Air, Fire and Water.